Personal tools
You are here: Home Articles Ole Bull’s Villa Lysøen

Ole Bull Violins. WE ARE SOLE AGENTS of these charming Instruments. The prices of these Violins are graded according to theirs ACTUAL VALUE, and range from $ 10 upward.

– Watson's Musical Agency


Home / Articles / Ole Bull’s Villa Lysøen
Nov 23, 2009
by Trond Indahl
© Trond Indahl

Ole Bull’s Villa Lysøen

In the summer of 1872, Ole Bull is 62 years old and his new bride, the 22-year-old Sara Thorpe, has recently given birth to their child. Bull is in search of a new home for his family and finds it in Lysøen.


Background: Valestrand

In 1872, Ole Bull spends the summer in his villa in Valestrand in the island municipality of Osterøy.  The property had long been in the possession of his family, but a few years earlier Bull had replaced the old villa with a new one, built to the drawings of his younger brother, architect and building inspector Georg Andreas Bull. The new structure, built in 1864-65 and finally completed in 1869, is a rectangular building in the Swiss chalet style featuring prominent projections from the roof and richly carved window frames. The gables are embellished with dragons, making the house probably the first “dragon style” building in Scandinavia.

Villa Lysøen
The Villa today.


In the summer of 1872, Ole is 62 years old with grown children from his first marriage. He has lately married again to the 40-years –younger Sara Thorpe. They have a daughter, Olea. Bull is on a quest for a site to erect a new home for his new family, and finds it on the island of Lysøen.

Property owner H.H. Formann of Lysekloster had died the previous year, and one of the heirs to the extensive tract is Anna Dorothea Nagell, wife to Ole’s childhood friend Nicolay Nicolaysen. Bull is familiar with Lysekloster and the area from earlier visits, and leaps at the chance to purchase the attractive island for 600 “speciedaler”.

The deed for Lysøen is dated the 5th of October, 1872, but plans for construction must have begun earlier.


Few sources exist for the building process itself. No construction permit was submitted – it was not necessary – and the original drawings and budget have been lost. Nevertheless, through a variety of correspondence to and from Ole Bull, a few fire insurance assessments and other archival material, a picture can be formed of what ensued and who was involved.

Brev til Lambach
Excerpt from Ole Bull’s letter to Lambach of 24.10.1872, with enclosed draft of construction plans for Lysøen Villa.


The villa as a building type is at this time relatively new in Norway, but in the mid-1800s such structures pop up around the larger cities. They often boast large verandas and lively ornamentation, preferably a tower indicating the owner’s independence and social standing. A model was Oscarshall on Bydøy in Oslo (1847-52), built in neo-gothic style with towers.

Bull engaged the City of Bergen’s building inspector, Conrad Fredrik von der Lippe (1833-1901), to design the villa. Several years earlier Bull had invited von der Lippe to draw up a “Moorish” villa for him on Valestrand, but Ole’s younger brother Georg Andreas was instead selected as architect.

Von der Lippe must have begun plans for the villa already in the early autumn of 1872. In a letter sent by Bull from Liverpool on the 24th of October, 1872, Bull discusses possible changes. He suggests moving the tower and altering the large staircase leading up to the balcony. However, in a later letter Bull specifies that it is von der Lippe who decides construction details, and in the main the villa conforms to von der Lippe’s intentions.

In the course of the winter and spring of 1873 construction continues. Roads are built and trees planted. Who was the engineer and who was responsible for the carpentry is still unclear today. At the close of July 1873, Ole Bull and his wife, daughter and parents-in-law arrive for a viewing.

The Villa

The house enjoys a commanding position with a broad view of Lysefjorden and the mainland. The main façade is north-facing, dominated by a large balcony on the second floor and adorned with arches, columns and other Moorish-inspired embellishments. From the balcony, a large staircase on either side arched down to the ground.  The eastern staircase was dismantled quite quickly as it blocked too much light for the first floor. A high tower topped with an onion-shaped cupola surmounts the northeast corner. While the first floor is constructed in brick, the second floor is in paneled timber and features lavishly carved window frames, eaves and other ornamentation.

Bull has actually built a relatively small villa. The first floor consists of only a parlor, two bedrooms and a kitchen. But overhead, the second floor offers a majestic space: a high-ceilinged music room of 100 square meters, with ten spiraled columns, Tuscan capitals and richly carved arches which stabilize the roof lengthwise and crosswise.

Moorish inspiration

The ornamental details of the villa are inspired by many places, but are on the whole Moorish, the style brought to Spain in the middle ages when the Moors populated large areas of that country. The Moorish style dominated in southern Spain also long after the Moors were driven out of the country in the 1500s and 1600s.

Løvegården - Alhambra

The Lion Court from Alhambra. Image from Wikipedia.

In the 19th century many villas in Europe and North America were built in “exotic” styles. The architects took inspiration from the far and near east and integrated these with elements from historical European architecture. An early example is the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1815-22). From the mid-1800s many buildings arose in the “Moorish” style. In 1858, Georg Andreas Bull designed a Moorish style villa in Homansbyen in Oslo. At this time, a slew of books had been published on Spanish Moor architecture, and in 1872 appeared a book on the Moors greatest Spanish building, the palace Alhambra in Granada. It is most likely that C.F. von der Lippe and/or Ole Bull was familiar with this volume.

And the onion dome? It may be inspired by Russian architecture, but the form is also found in many other places.

Royal Pavilion
Photo of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton with its characteristic domes. Image from Wikipedia.

Sale and expansions

The villa was probably little used during its first years as it soon had to be sold to Bull’s father-in-law, Joseph G. Thorp, to cover debts.  The same autumn, it was again sold to Thorp’s son, Alexander. In the winter of 1873-74, Bull is with his wife Sara and his in-laws in Menton on the Mediterranean. There is a family dispute, and the spouses do not meet again until the spring of 1876. That summer, Thorp deeds the villa to his daughter and granddaughter Olea, and it becomes apparent that the house is too small for a family. During the winter of 1876-77, several bedrooms are added to the eastern side. The architect is the firm Hansen & Faye from Bergen; Johan Kahrs is the contractor. The window frames and other details conform to the style of the rest of the house. Already one year later, the building is again expanded with a back wing.

Lysøen after Ole Bull

Ole Bull dies at Lysøen the 17th of August, 1880. The Thorp family continues to inhabit the villa summers. Around 1905, dormers and more bedrooms are added on to the loft on the eastern section, and yet more dormers around 1920. For many summers, Bull’s American descendents continue to travel to Lysøen, before Sylvea Bull Curtis bequeaths the property to the Historical Society in 1972 and the house becomes a museum.

Document Actions
last modified Jan 27, 2010 03:06 PM